Mrinalini Harchandrai

Five Minutes With is a series of interviews with contemporary poets from India. 

Mrinalini Harchandrai is the author of A Bombay in My Beat, a collection of poetry. Her poem won first prize in The Barre (2017), and she was a finalist for the Stephen A. DiBiase Poetry Prize 2019. The manuscript for her as-yet unpublished novel was selected as Notable Entry for the Disquiet International Literary Prize 2019. Her short stories have been longlisted for the Commonwealth Short Story Prize 2018 and selected as a Top Pick (2018) with Juggernaut Books, India. Her work has been anthologised in The Brave New World of Goan Writing 2018 and RLFPA Editions’ Best Indian Poetry 2018, and her writing features on several literary platforms.

Photo of Mrinalini Harchandrai

What prompted your interest in poetry?
It’s been a gradual momentum built up from several experiences. It began in school–Shakespeare, to the Romantics and some Modernists, to Kipling. I was lucky to have English teachers who knew how to sieve poems and passionately draw forth everything from rhyme scheme to the rasas or emotions neatly packed in the words. I was a sponge in English class. In college, discovering the boldness of Sharon Olds, the exuberance of Maya Angelou, and the quirkiness of Nissim Ezekiel among others. This ensnared me further into what poetry can do when shaped by the times. Breaking away from convention, bringing in smooth-tongued double-dealing with the polysemy of words and ideas, releasing a cannonade from a turn of phrase–poetry can be a lab where a precisely measured concoction of words can ignite so much.

What are you reading?
I’m thoroughly savouring Mark Waldron’s serious/hilarious poems in Sweet, Like Rinky-Dink. There’s wit and surprise enjambed at every title and line. I’ve been enjoying the ethereal wordplay in Sin of Semantics, a debut collection of poetry by Saima Afreen. And I’ve slowly but surely been persuaded to relish haibun, with the poems of Paresh Tiwari, from his collection, Raindrops Chasing Raindrops. As for fiction, I’ve just finished Sleeping on Jupiter, darkly beautiful lit-fic by Anuradha Roy. And I’ve also got a bookmark in Cast Out and Other Stories, a short story collection of strongly etched characters and obsessions by Sucharita Dutta-Asane.

How do you find inspiration?
It can be a news item, a feature or character of someone, the way the monsoon arrives, wisps of conversation…If I’m actively seeking inspiration, I’ll read. And there is so much to choose from–online journals, literary magazines and books of course. Usually if I’m reading for inspiration it’s like stretching the elastic, and when released I feel like it allows me to bounce back inwards and reach in with more focus to my themes and obsessions. I also love it when something I read allows me to see what gets triggered within me, what would my reaction be, how can I interpret the moon from my corner. Besides this, imagination is also a good place to plumb inspiration.

Where do you write?
From my laptop. Anywhere.

Why do you write?
Speaking for myself, I think that to write isn’t a choice. It is something intrinsic to me like a muscle or vein, and it needs to be worked upon, taken care of, for my wellbeing. The material rewards are few and far between, if any. So the doing of it is the reward. I find that I get a sense of job satisfaction once I’ve completed my writing quota for the day or finished a piece I’ve been working upon.

What is your advice for emerging poets?
Send out your work to literary platforms and find ways to develop a publishing history before you approach a publisher. It gives you the necessary marination and editing time your work needs. Rejection is bound to be part of the process and is useful for two things: helping you get more in touch with your inner critic, and you learn patience and self-possession. Definitely hold on to these as you repeat the whole submission process each time.

What is the role of poets in shaping the future?
Carl Sandburg said, “Poetry is an echo, asking a shadow to dance.” Poetry may seem too subtle an art for a world of marketplace machinations. On the other hand, history shows us that expressions from Shakespearean works have entered mainstream language and influence the way we think. So for me, I think that by pushing the boundaries with language and inventing/reinventing it where it may fall short, poets can influence perception and communication. In my humble opinion, a barometer for a country’s intelligence, liberalism and progress can be gauged by whether it allocates public funding towards developing its poets and poetry, without placing any curbs on freedom of expression.

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